Insurgency & Counter-Insurgency

Insurgency is an organized revolt against a government or foreign occupation force. It is a mass movement arising from the civilian or Indigenous populations as a whole. Although insurgencies involve the organization of combat forces (usually guerrillas), these forces would be quickly isolated & destroyed without support from the population.

Insurgency is the only form of warfare to have defeated two super-powers: the US in Vietnam (1962-73) and the Russians in Afghanistan (1979-89).

Counter-insurgency is a special form of warfare against resistance movements & populations as a whole. It involves all the means used to wage war, including diplomacy, terror, ideology, culture, psychological, economic, political, and military means.

Although we generally think of counter-insurgency as straight up combat, helicopters with special forces troopers, etc., in reality it is a multi-faceted program designed to destroy insurgent movements, in which combat operations are but one aspect. Military action, in fact, may be severely limited due to an inability to locate insurgents and/or the need to not further alienate a domestic population. For these reasons, it is also referred to as low-intensity conflict (in many cases, however, this has involved widespread state terror against domestic populations, more accurately termed counter-insurgency wars).

In a broader social sense, the ruling class sees the domestic population as a hostile & threatening force, which must be constantly watched in case subversive elements within it begin to organize & spread. Permanent counter-insurgency exists because the state understands that, although rebel organizations can be destroyed, the conditions which give rise to such movements cannot, due to the inherent oppression & injustice of the system itself.

For this reason, intelligence agencies are maintained whose purpose is to identify & monitor subversive persons & elements within the domestic population. Current examples include the Canadian Security & Intelligence Service (CSIS), the RCMP’s Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET), the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as well as intelligence & national security sections within police & military forces.

The foundation of all counter-insurgency operations is intelligence gained from surveillance & spies. Without this intelligence, state security forces would not know who, what, where, or when to strike. This surveillance not only targets individuals, but functions at a social level as well, identifying patterns & trends in specific social sectors (i.e., ethnic, economic, tribal, geographic, etc.).

Just as insurgency cannot exist without substantial support from the population, counter-insurgency cannot function without extending its repression & surveillance throughout the society. In both cases, it is the people who can be seen as the final determining factor between liberation & oppression. Liberation based on, as George Jackson termed it, “the greater potential violence of the masses,” versus that of the state. If successful, the state maintains its system of oppression and yet can never claim a final victory, as the process of repression & resistance again renews itself with each new generation.

In the context of insurgency, this greater potential violence is not simply military, but includes all measures which decrease the military potential of our enemy (i.e., strikes, boycotts, demonstrations, blockades, occupations, riots, sabotage). Some recent examples include large-scale mobilizations against neo-liberal economic polices in Argentina, Bolivia & Ecuador (primarily Indigenous), in which millions of people took part in blockades, riots, etc., effectively shutting down all highways, airports, cities, commerce, transportation, industry, etc.

Guerrilla Warfare & Insurgency

Guerrilla is a Spanish word meaning “little war.” Guerrilla warfare is used by a smaller, weaker force against a larger, more powerful enemy. Today, it is also referred to as ‘asymmetrical warfare’, although it is an ancient form of warfare. Guerrilla warfare seeks to avoid enemy strengths and to attack critical enemy vulnerabilities, relying on secrecy, surprise, stealth, & speed. Ambushes and raids are common tactics, as well as sabotage of critical infrastructure. Unlike conventional war, in which taking & holding ground is often a key objective in military operations, guerrilla warfare avoids taking & defending territory in the face of superior enemy firepower.

Guerrilla warfare is based primarily on maneuver, with attacks aimed at shattering the enemy’s cohesion and ability to function. A war of attrition, on the other hand, seeks to physically destroy the enemy. Even though our movements in North America are not guerrillas, we can say that they share many characteristics with guerrillas, including conflict with a large, powerful adversary; the necessity of avoiding enemy strengths; choosing the time and place of attack; etc. The strategy & tactics of guerrilla warfare are, therefore, that of the insurgent in general. For this reason, the concepts of insurgency, guerrilla, resistance, and counter-insurgency are all based on similar principles. It is these principles we seek to understand. By examining counter-insurgency in relation to guerrilla struggle, we can better understand its application against resistance movements in general.

“Inevitably, guerrilla groups operated in difficult terrain such as mountains, deserts & forests. Within these environments they possessed local knowledge that was often denied their opponents. Often, they enjoyed a degree of popular support from local inhabitants. They were generally more mobile than their opponents and would undertake hit & run raids that enabled them to damage yet also evade their opponent –and thereby prolong the struggle… Guerrilla warfare was generally understood as the natural military recourse of Indigenous groups in opposition to occupation or oppression; either where a conventional army had been defeated or had never existed. It was also clearly a strategy of the weak faced by a stronger military power.”

(Ian FW Beckett, Encyclopedia of Guerrilla Warfare, p. xi).

What truly distinguishes guerrilla warfare from other forms of war is the importance of support from the local population (People’s War). Without this, the guerrilla cannot exist, for it is the guerrilla’s ability to find material & moral support among the population that enables it to not only survive, but to fight. This includes food, shelter, clothing, medical aid, and intelligence. This support is the result of intensive organizing among the people:

“The fusion of the traditional guerrilla military tactic of hit-and-run with political objectives –and the addition of political, socioeconomic & psychological measures, not least political mobilization of the population– to enhance military tactics marked the emergence of a new style of guerrilla warfare. This can be termed ‘revolutionary guerrilla warfare’ but it is also commonly referred to as “insurgency.”
“The combination of guerrilla action, propaganda, subversion and political mobilization implicit in insurgency has been sufficiently successful so as to become the most prevalent form of conflict since 1945.”

(Encyclopedia of Guerrilla Warfare, p. xiii).

Modern Counter-Insurgency

Modern counter-insurgency tactics, techniques, & strategies have their origins in the post-WW2 ‘de-colonization’ period, when national liberation movements emerged in Asia, Africa & South America. In many of these struggles, guerrilla forces were organized to fight against European colonial forces. Along with the weakening of West European powers by WW2, anti-colonial rebellions were greatly inspired by the Chinese Revolution of 1949.

Mao Tse-Tung, a Chinese communist leader, had developed the theory of protracted people’s war involving guerrilla struggle & the political mobilization of the masses. After over 20 years of fighting, the communists had succeeded in overthrowing the corrupt government & warlords of China, as well as Japanese occupation forces.

Mao’s theory was that guerrilla forces should be organized in the rural areas, where the government had less control and was often unable to rely on superior numbers, technology, etc. As the rural areas came increasingly under rebel control, government forces would be restricted to urban areas, which were then cut off and isolated prior to attack. Mao envisioned this occurring at an international level as well, where the imperialist nations of Europe & North America were equated with being the urban centres, while the Third Word was equated with being the rural regions. As anti-colonial & anti-imperialist forces fought and gained control of the ‘rural’ areas, the imperial nations would find themselves isolated & cut off from cheap resources, markets, etc.

In Asian & African jungles & Middle-East deserts, European colonial forces were faced with growing insurgencies during the 1950s & ’60s. In colony after colony, small guerrilla forces, supported by large sectors of the population, began carrying out armed attacks against government, military, & corporate targets. One of the first post-war anti-colonial guerrilla insurgencies began in Malaya (now Malaysia).

The Malayan Emergency

“Like other conflicts, the Malayan Emergency offers lessons that have applicability to future wars. It is one of the few examples of a low-intensity conflict that was won by the government in power & thus is a favourite subject of case studies in insurgency. In addition, it stands as one of the best illustrations of a coordinated political-military effort that actually defeated a guerrilla force.”

(Maj. Jay Gordon Simpson, “Not by Bombs Alone: Lessons from Malaya,” Joint Forces Quarterly, pub. by Canadian Forces, Summer 1999)

Malaya is located in South-East Asia, bordered on the north by Thailand and to the south by the small city-state of Singapore. Malaya itself is a peninsula of over 50,000 square miles, with some of the world’s most rugged terrain, mountainous and heavily forested with thick jungle. Originally occupied by the British during the mid-1800s, Malaya came under Japanese occupation during WW2.

During the war, Malayan guerrilla forces were organized to fight the Japanese, and many were trained & armed by the British. After the war and the defeat of Japan, the British moved to re-occupy Malaya and to establish a neo-colonial regime. In response, former guerrillas renewed their military operations, now under the Malayan People’s Anti-British Army. This movement was led by the Malayan Communist Party, with its primary base of support among disaffected & impoverished Malayan Chinese, many of whom were landless peasants in rural areas.

The insurgents began attacking British & Malayan government forces, as well as colonial businesses such as rubber plantations & tin mines (the main export commodities). In June 1948, the Malayan Emergency was officially declared. That year, the Malayan Security Service, the main intelligence branch of the British, was disbanded after failing to provide advance warning of the insurgency. It was replaced by Malayan police Special Branches.

Overall, the government was slow to respond, and not until 1950 did serious effort begin to put into counter-insurgency operations. In 1951, the British high commissioner to Malaya was assassinated by insurgents, and the counter-insurgency campaign began to intensify.

Regular police & military forces were quickly found to be incapable of engaging in successful counter-insurgency operations, however. Police lacked training & equipment, while regular soldiers trained to fight conventional mechanized wars were unable to adapt to anti-guerrilla fighting. Guerrilla insurgents, operating in small groups in inaccessible mountains & jungles, were elusive & impossible to control. The lack of extensive roads, railways and airfields in Malaya severely limited the ability of government forces to locate and attack guerrillas. Using hit and run attacks on vulnerable enemy targets, the guerrilla insurgency continued to gain popular support.

One response from the British was to re-establish special military commando units from WW2. One of these was the Special Air Service (SAS), who were deployed into Malaya in the 1950s to fight an anti-guerrilla war. They are seen as the prototype of today’s special forces units. Other forces deployed included regular British & Australian troops, veterans of both WW2 & Korea, as well as air force planes & helicopters.

In Malaya, small SAS teams were placed in or near Indigenous villages to recruit, train and organize paramilitary forces against the guerrillas. They also gathered intelligence, established communications posts, provided medical aid to villagers, and carried out extensive small-unit patrols. According to one history of the unit,

“The SAS found that offering medical assistance & helping the tribesmen defend themselves from the guerrillas, along with attempting to learn their language & customs, were the two primary requirements for gaining their trust.
“The SAS also performed two invaluable counter-insurgency functions in that their hearts-and-minds campaign helped deny the [insurgents] local support & their deep penetration denied the guerrillas a safe haven. Many precepts developed by the SAS in Malaya became standard for the SAS in later counter-insurgency campaigns, as well as for the US in Vietnam & Latin America. Perhaps most importantly, the success of the SAS in Malaya established the continued need for such special operations units.”

(SAS: Great Britain’s Elite, p. 69-71)

Along with ground forces, the British and their Australian allies also used their air forces to conduct extensive surveillance of jungle areas, to insert combat troops (by parachute & helicopter), to bomb suspected guerrilla camps, to re-supply outposts and long-range patrols, to spray chemical toxins over suspected guerrilla food crops, and to deliver propaganda (leaflets and loudspeakers).

Overall, however, “Offensive air support was not a major factor. It was only useful against an enemy whose position was known and that intended to hold its ground. The communists preferred mobility and stealth” (Simpson, 1999, p. 94).

Air operations were limited by weather conditions (i.e., heavy fog in the morning, often followed by storms in the afternoon), bad navigation (much of Malaya was a sea of jungle, and much of it was poorly mapped, if at all), poor communications between pilots & ground forces due to the thick jungle canopy, and long response times due to lack of airfields. Major work was required to carve out landing zones for helicopters & drop zones for supplies.

At the same time, SAS & airborne troops developed skills & techniques for parachuting into jungle canopies. Extensive aerial surveillance was used to develop maps & to photograph the land. According to Simpson, 155 confirmed guerrilla camps and 77 possible ones, along with 313 cultivated areas for crops, were found through aerial surveillance.

Although limited, bombing campaigns did have a negative impact on guerrillas. In 1956, an attack against the No. 7 Independent Platoon (a standard organization of the guerrilla) was made, based on information supplied by an informant. The location of the camp was confirmed through ground reconnaissance, and several weeks spent in preparation for an air strike. Under ideal weather conditions, an air attack was launched. Almost 100 1,000 lb. bombs were dropped, killing 14 insurgents.

On the other hand, an air strike against the No. 3 Independent Platoon was far less successful. A first strike dropped over 500,000 lbs. of explosive with no apparent effect. A second strike dropped nearly 100,000 lbs. but 250 yards away from the camp. Several days later, a third attack dropped some 70,000 lbs. of bombs, resulting in 4 dead.

Overall, bombing campaigns were more disruptive than effective, and air support was used primarily for transportation, re-supply and airborne operations. Of far greater value was the use of helicopters:

“Helicopters could operate almost anywhere, even in rough jungle. Prior to deployment, security forces were hard pressed to carry the war to the enemy. Foot patrols took considerable time to penetrate an area, and frequently the insurgents were gone after being warned by aborigines. Likewise, outlying posts & estates were difficult to reinforce & vulnerable to hit-and-run raids. Helicopters solved this problem, allowing troops to be moved into deep jungle before [insurgents] could withdraw… Not only could troops penetrate far into communist territory, but they arrived fresh and ready to fight”
(Simpson, 1999; p. 97).

In regards to psychological operations, aircraft were used to distribute leaflets & taped broadcasts over loudspeakers. Millions of leaflets were dropped over villages & suspected guerrilla camps, calling on insurgents to surrender, highlighting guerrilla failures, personally attacking guerrilla commanders, etc. Transport planes with large speakers were used to broadcast looped messages on tapes, also targeted at individuals and groups by name, promoting the government, etc.

In an effort to gather personal information, control & restrict movement, new identity cards were issued which had to be presented for government services and to cross checkpoints. This system greatly expanded the intelligence available to the British and enabled them to better identify & monitor potential subversives.

The British identified the insurgency as largely limited to the ethnic Chinese population in rural areas, where guerrillas were most active. Their strategy, besides military attacks on the insurgents, was to deprive the guerrillas of this base of popular support. Entire villages were re-located out of these zones and placed in ‘New Villages’. Between 1950 & 1960, over 500,000 people were re-located under this program. At first, the villages were under armed guard by soldiers, later replaced by paramilitary forces & police.

This program is seen as achieving considerable success, and had a significant impact on the ability of the guerrilla to continue carrying out operations. The relocation effort itself succeeded because many villages were ‘squatters’, living in huts in remote villages. In the ‘New Villages’, housing and other amenities were provided, raising the material standard of their living conditions (prosperity as a form of pacification).

In 1957, the British also granted Malaya independence, although retaining significant political, military, & economic control. Nevertheless, this also served to deprive the insurgents of their essential reason & purpose (independence).

“An insurgency is an attempt to force political change, and thus it follows logically that the center of gravity can be reached only by political action. The [British] government response to an insurgency [in its Malayan Campaign, 1948 to 1960] should take as its fundamental assumption that the true nature of the threat lies in the insurgent’s political potential rather than his military power, although the latter may appear the more worrying in the short term.

“Again, in Malaya, the center of gravity was targeted not by jungle patrolling, but by the political decision to grant independence; the military contribution was invaluable, but not of itself decisive. The military campaign should focus upon the insurgents, but it is only one part of a wider solution…

“Decisions in principle were taken to move toward independence for Malaya from 1952 onwards, and proceeded via elections in 1955 to full independence in 1957. The effect of these political decisions was to improve the cooperation of the Malay authorities, allow the Malayan armed forces to be built up and integrated into the operations to defeat the insurgency, and to gradually isolate and neutralize the insurgents…”

(Gavin Bulloch, “Military Doctrine and Counterinsurgency: A British Perspective,” Parameters; US Army War College Quarterly, Summer 1996, pp. 4-16).

By 1959, the guerrillas were forced to seek sanctuary in nearby Thailand. The Malayan Emergency officially ended in 1960, and military operations continued until 1963. Although the insurgency was defeated in that it failed to seize power & establish a communist government & economic system, the guerrillas clearly contributed to the ending of direct British rule.

Kitson’s Counter-Insurgency Model

Frank Kitson, a British military commander with extensive experience in Malaya, Borneo, Kenya, and Northern Ireland, developed many of the basic principles & methods of counter-insurgency used by Western nations today. Kitson emphasized the need to gather intelligence and to conduct psychological operations as vital to the defeat of an insurgent movement, extending far beyond simple police-military operations. In a 1971 book entitled Low Intensity Operations, Kitson states,

“[T]he enemy is likely to be employing a combination of political, economic, psychological and military measures, so the government will have to do likewise to defeat him…”

(Frank Kitson, Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency, Peace-Keeping, Faber & Faber, London 1971, p. 7).

Kitson identified three phases a resistance movement goes through:
1) the preparatory phase,
2) the non-violent phase, and
3) insurgency.

In the preparatory phase, organizations are formed, meetings held, and information is distributed through newsletters, radio, video, etc.
“These activities form a most important part of any subversion campaign, particularly in the early stages when the population is being mobilized to support the cause” (Kitson, p. 17).

It is in this early stage that resistance movements should be targeted by security forces:

“Subversive movements are particularly vulnerable during the period when the population is being organized to produce support” (Kitson, p. 32).

“The first step should be to prevent the insurgents from gaining an ascendancy over the civil population, and in particular to disrupt his efforts at establishing his political organization.

“In practise, if the government is at all slow in developing a system for identifying the insurgents they will probably survive long enough to attract the support of a significant portion of the population, and if this happens the government’s task will become immeasurably harder. But if the government builds up a really effective intelligence organization quickly, insurgents operating without the insulation provided by a closely linked system of secure cells will be eliminated before they become dangerous”
(Kitson, p. 39).

Because an organization does not at first experience obvious repression does not mean that counter-insurgency operations are not being carried out (remember the principle of permanent counter-insurgency). The single most important resource for state security forces is intelligence, especially the identification of movement members & organizers. This intelligence is gathered through surveillance, informants & infiltrators.

A movement in the beginning stages of organizing tends to be ignorant of counter-insurgency techniques. Individuals are hesitant to use any security precautions, so as to not appear ‘paranoid’. They may talk openly about subversive plans, activities, & other people.

For these reasons, police-intelligence agencies take great care during this first initial phase to limit repression in order to exploit the lack of security. Their most essential task is to identify organizers, members, resources, strategies, etc. Once repression or surveillance is detected, this free flow of information can stop.

In countering a growing resistance movement, Kitson advises that the state not simply openly repress the movement. Instead, it should attempt to undermine the movement through ideology & psychological warfare:

“[P]oliticians will rightly want to avoid the use of force as far as possible, and for as long as possible, because of the adverse effect it is bound to have on public opinion… [The government] must also promote its own cause & undermine that of the enemy by disseminating its view of the situation, and this involves a carefully planned & coordinated campaign of what for want of a better word must regrettably be called psychological operations” (Kitson, p. 70-71).

“This policy [of psychological operations] has to be turned into specific propaganda material such as films, broadcasts, newspaper articles, leaflets, and so on” (Kitson, p. 77).

“It is only necessary to stress once again that wars of subversion & counter-subversion are fought, in the last resort, in the minds of the people, for the importance of a good psychological operations organization to become apparent” (Kitson, p. 78).

In the second phase of insurgency, the “non-violent phase” as Kitson describes it, the resistance movement expands & begins carrying out larger activities such as protests, campaigns of civil disobedience, blockades, occupations, sabotage & direct action, etc.

The basic counter-insurgency techniques used up to this point continue and expand to include active disruption & harassment, arrests, imprisonment, violent assaults, and even lethal force. Through these, the state security forces hope to divert the movement away from organizing, to undermine popular support, and at the same time intimidate or otherwise neutralize organizers so that they withdraw from the struggle.

The experiences of the 1950s black civil rights struggle in the US, as well the 1960’s & ’70s period of liberation struggles, stand as historical records of such tactics. During this time, social movements in North America had developed into the second stage of insurgency (according to Kitson’s model). This included mass civil disobedience, protests, direct actions, & sabotage.

Under the title Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTEL-PRO), the FBI & police agencies across the US waged a counter-insurgency campaign that severely disrupted & undermined many movements & organizations, especially the Black Panther Party, Puerto Rican independistas, Chicanos, anti-imperialists, and the American Indian Movement. Key organizers were killed or arrested, widespread surveillance was conducted, offices & homes were broken into, material and resources were stolen or destroyed, and scores of informants & infiltrators used.

By the late 1960s, thousands of National Guard and US Army soldiers were being deployed in major cities to crush ghetto riots & rebellions. Many movement members & especially organizers had been assassinated, with many others imprisoned. Faced with lethal repression, their public organizations heavily infiltrated and now incapacitated, some militants went ‘underground’ to escape death or capture.

At this time, many movements began to see armed guerrilla groups emerge. These included the Black Liberation Army, the Puerto Rican FALN (Armed Forces of National Liberation), the Symbionese Liberation Army, Weather Underground, and later the George Jackson Brigade. They carried out bombings, arson, jail breaks, armed robberies, and armed attacks against police & military targets (especially the BLA & FALN). Many were captured or killed by the late ’70s.

By this time, the FBI’s COINTEL-PRO had been terminated and replaced by anti-terrorism as the guiding doctrine for what was still counter-insurgency. In Canada, Martial Law was declared after FLQ (Quebec Liberation Front) guerrillas kidnapped two politicians in Quebec (later executing one — the October Crisis, 1970). Soldiers were deployed in Montreal and 450 people detained in raids & arrests.

Throughout the 1960’s & ’70s, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Security Service, like the FBI, also carried out counter-insurgency operations involving widespread surveillance, break-and-enters, theft of files, arson, etc. In fact, the Security Service was eventually disbanded after revelations of its ‘illegal’ activities, and was replaced by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

Although the urban guerrillas were quickly crushed for the most part, many social movements during the 1960s and ’70s were clearly insurgent in their views. This was due in part to the courageous resistance of the Vietnamese people and a global wave of rebellion (the ’68 generation).

Regarding counter-insurgency strategies for this second phase, Kitson advises:

“In practical terms the most promising line of approach lies in separating the mass of those engaged in the campaign from the leadership by the promise of concessions… It is most important to do 3 things quickly.

“The first is to implement the promised concessions so as to avoid allegations of bad faith which may enable the subversive leadership to regain control over sections of the people.

“The second is to discover and neutralize the genuine subversive element.

“The third is to associate as many prominent members of the population, especially those who have engaged in non-violent action, with the government. This last technique is known in America as co-optation and is described… as drowning the revolution in baby’s milk” (Kitson, p. 87-88).

Concessions can include, for example, the promise to hold inquiries or special commissions into grievances, the transfer or removal of certain officials, allocation of funding to some government program or department, a revision of minor laws, etc.

During the 1950’s civil rights struggle, the US government made great efforts to associate Martin Luther King’s non-violent movement with the state (even providing financial assistance), while undermining the more militant approach of Malcolm X (today in the US there is a Martin Luther King Day and streets named after him in major cities). In response to the rebellions of the 1960s, blacks, Chicanos and women also began to be promoted to higher-profile government & corporate positions, as well as police forces (neo-colonialism). In the early 1970s, US military forces also began withdrawing from Vietnam. All of these are examples of concessions, reforms, and co-optation.

According to Kitson, “Prosperity is itself a potent weapon,” (p. 50) and he recommends the use of money as a means of pacifying a population & neutralizing the ability of insurgents to organize. This includes improvements in housing & infrastructure, for example, which if neglected can be exploited by subversives as proof of government neglect & incompetence.

One example of this is the ‘New Villages’ program used during the Malayan Emergency, which provided impoverished squatters located in remote jungle regions with new housing. On a broader level, government welfare & social services are also forms of prosperity designed to pacify social sectors and integrate them into the system.

Along with the use of co-optation & concessions, Kitson also warns against repressing a ‘non-violent’ movement if this only serves to deepen the insurgency:

“It may be disadvantageous to destroy a non-violent subversive movement if the only result is to find that a campaign of terrorism or all-out insurrection has been substituted for it. It is far easier to penetrate a subversive movement [which uses] non-violent means than it is when the movement is wholly clandestine because of the number of people overtly involved. Although this cannot be a reason for containing it in this form indefinitely, it is worth considering whether it should be broken up before some headway has been made towards discovering the identity of the people who are really behind it” (Kitson, p. 88-89).

In some cases from the 1970s & ’80s urban guerrilla phase in N. America, police-intelligence agents observed ‘clandestine’ groups for weeks or even months as they planned, prepared and at times even carried out armed attacks. Rather than simply arrest the first group, it would be put under surveillance in order to gather more suspects & intelligence, or evidence for charges. As well, the capture & destruction of armed groups was frequently designed to maximize demoralization of the movement itself (i.e., by involving infiltrators & informants in the arrest & imprisonment of militants).

If the government is unable to destroy the movement during this second phase, and it moves into that of armed insurgency, the government is faced with a far more difficult problem. Under conditions of armed conflict & state repression, the guerrilla and many militants adapt clandestine organizing methods. They are forced to finally take all security deadly seriously, and this restricts the flow of information to government forces. Guerrillas, in fact, may be prowling through vast tracts of jungle (rural or urban):

“The problem of destroying enemy armed groups and their supporters therefore consists very largely of finding them. Once found, they can no longer strike on their own terms but are obliged to dance to the tune of the government’s forces. It then becomes a comparatively simple matter to dispose of them” (Kitson, p. 95).

“The main problem in fighting insurgents lies in finding them, and it could be said that the process of developing information… constitutes the basic tactical function of counter-insurgency operations” (Kitson, p. 99).

One method of locating guerrillas Kitson suggests is the “pseudo-gang,” a fake guerrilla group comprised of mercenaries and/or agents. Pretending to be a genuine group, they discredit the movement through attacks against the civilian population, etc.

“A more elaborate operation might involve the building up of a pseudo-gang from captured insurgents and the cultivation by them of a local supporters committee in a particular area designed ultimately to put the pseudo-gang into touch with a genuine enemy group” (Kitson, p. 117).

Other methods of locating guerrillas include the use of defectors, informants, & infiltrators; citizens in guerrilla zones can be encouraged to inform, and large cash rewards offered for information; terror and torture can be used to force prisoners to collaborate; trackers & dogs can be used to follow trails; small units can conduct long-range patrols in areas of suspected guerrilla camps; aerial & satellite surveillance can sweep areas for signs of camps or personnel.


Today, the US invasion & occupation of Iraq has turned into a classic insurgency/counter-insurgency struggle. While we see this struggle occurring on our TV screens and in newspapers, it should be kept in mind that this war is taking place in a larger context referred to as a ‘Global War on Terror’ (GWOT). This overall war is characterized not only by external invasions (Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as more special forces deployed to the Philippines, Colombia, etc.), but also by internal repression, as seen in new anti-terrorist laws, increased funding & personnel for police & intelligence agencies, ever-greater surveillance, etc.

Seen in this way, the Global War on Terror is essentially a counter-insurgency war, one that will be increasingly focused on domestic opposition as political, economic, and environmental crises lead to greater social conflict in the years to come. For these reasons, having a basic understanding of counter-insurgency strategies is vital if we are to effectively organize resistance here in North America–the center of the imperialist system itself.


Posted on February 10, 2011, in Counter-Insurgency and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Good breakdown. Do you read Global Guerrillas? John Robb is a former CIA analyst who has developed a very impressive body of work around 4th Generation Warfare and what he has coined Open Source Insurgency. He shows how COIN tactics are useless against networked cells. Google his Open Source Warfare Standing Orders for more.

    • Yes I have read Robb’s analysis, pretty interesting stuff for a counter-insurgent government agent…

      • Yeah, there is that. And I hear he gave his DoD buddies a heads up before he started publishing his Open Source Warfare stuff. Still, he’s been pushing resilient communities for a few years now and has pretty much declared that we are living in the waning years of the Nation State/Empire model of the world. His concept of a “resilient community” is strikingly close to what a native village was (or in the case of the Pueblo and some eastern tribes, native city.)

        I think his ideas will prove important and useful as the US (and Canada) start to unwind over the next few decades.

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